The 9th Circuit Court ruled 2-to-1 to reverse U.S. District Judge John Walter's dismissal of Von Saher's suit. Von Saher, who currently resides in New York, will now be able to resume her claim on the paintings in district court.
"Adam" and "Eve," which were appraised at $24 million in 2006, date from around 1530 and are among the most highly valued works at the Norton Simon in Pasadena. The diptych paintings, which show the Old Testament figures standing nude under an apple tree, were sold to museum founder Norton Simon in 1971 and became part of the museum's collection when it opened four years later.
The 2012 decision to dismiss the case hinged on a U.S. policy called "external restitution," which allowed various countries to determine for themselves who rightfully owned art that was recovered from Nazi possession during and after the war.
The paintings were among those rescued by the Monuments Men, a group of Allied art experts who sought to recover masterpieces from Nazi possession. The Monuments Men sent the paintings to the Dutch government.
The Netherlands ended up selling the paintings to George Stroganoff-Scherbatoff, who later sold them to Simon.
On Friday, the Ninth Circuit Court said in its ruling that the plaintiff's claims "do not conflict with foreign policy" and that the lower court "erred in concluding otherwise."
"We and our client are delighted with the decision," said Lawrence Kaye, the lead attorney for Von Saher, in a phone interview. "Her hope is that the Norton Simon will finally do the right thing and return them."